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Chris Lintott to speak in Manchester September 25, 2013

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, Chris Lintott, Sky at Night, West Didsbury Astronomical Society.
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Here’s an invitation from West Didsbury Astronomical Society to attend a talk by Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott on 11th November.

Most details are below, so if you would like to attend, please email chrislintott.ticket@wdas2.com to reserve a ticket, as space is limited.


NAM2012 April 2, 2012

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, Bright Club Manchester, NAM2012, Recycled Electrons, Royal Astronomical Society, tweetup, West Didsbury Astronomical Society.
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The National Astronomy Meeting of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, in partnership with Germany’s Astronomische Gesellschaft just took place on my doorstep at the University of Manchester from 27th – 30th March 2012.

As the top research astronomers of both societies descended on the city, there were also several public events which took place over the week, and I showed my face at some of them!

Me showing my face at one of the NAM2012 events.

On Monday evening, together with friends from the West Didsbury Astronomical Society, I went to a public lecture by Professor Simon White, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, with the title All from Nothing : The Structuring of Our Universe.  He explained how everything in our entire world may very well have come from nothing.  Absolutely nothing at all.  But it’s all here now.

Totally fascinating stuff.

Tuesday evening saw an astronomically-themed Bright Club which included short science talks, music and comedy – the self-styled “thinking person’s variety club”.  I really enjoyed the evening – those who had been brave enough to take to the stage were great, (props to @evanocathain, @SaturnSheila, @RainDogJones, @LuzGuzRam, @dr_paul_woods for that)  And it was lovely to meet up with people I hadn’t seen for quite a while, along with others whom I bump into more regularly.  If you see a Bright Club event near you, I’d recommend you give it a whirl – it was great fun!

Wednesday saw a tweetup for The Listener of the Recycled Electrons podcast, and as I am an incarnation of The Listener, it would have been rude not to attend. Alcohol was consumed and spilt (mostly over me, but not by me I should add) during a highly entertaining evening. The picture above was taken at the event and features The Listener and hosts.

(In the picture: @fizzpup and friend, me, @lisa_tibbs, @jen_gupta, @KarenLMasters, @freckleface12, @RadioVicky, @maguirenumber6, @Christinaananaa and in the centre, hosts @orbitingfrog and @chrislintott)

A year of looking up December 31, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, ESO, Look up, Paranal, Stars.
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On New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to explore astronomy a bit more, and learn something about what’s ‘out there’.

Although these posts haven’t been quite as frequent as I’d hoped, they still give an indication of lots of different things which have caught my attention during the year.

I have no intention of stopping now, and I’ll continue to collect and share things which I like.  So to end 2011, here’s a video from the European Southern Observatory showing a whole night in less than one minute.

This video depicts a whole night of work at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, from dusk till dawn. As the starry sky begins disclosing its beauties, the domes of the four VLT Unit Telescopes rapidly move to observe different celestial objects. Above the observatory, the wonderful landscape of the Milky Way rides the firmament in all its glory, while several shooting stars ‘scratch’ the sky, leaving very distinctive trails.

Credit: ESO/S. Guisard (www.eso.org/~sguisard)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

ESO – vltplatftimelapse – From Dusk till Dawn -…, posted with vodpod

ALMA – looking into the soul of the universe October 4, 2011

Posted by Marie in ALMA, Astronomy, Cosmos.
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I love the Spanish language, and I really love that many songs in Spanish dwell upon the word alma meaning ‘soul‘ as often as they do ‘corazon‘ or ‘heart’. So I like the fact that the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is a ‘telescope’ in the Chilean Andes, composed of 66 high-precision antennae (of which only 22 are currently online), designed to study light from some of the coldest, furthest, and most hidden secrets of the soul of the Universe.  For example …

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

The array has recently published its first image (above) using only twelve antennae working together — just imagine what the images will be like once all the antennae are on-line!

To find out more about ALMA, or just to see some stunning scenery, it’s well worth taking a look at this video from ESO (European Southern Observatory).  Amazing skies, telescopes being moved on trucks – it’s all here!  And my claim to fame is that I know people who work on ALMA which makes me really cool. Yes? 🙂

Cosmos – then and now September 5, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, Carl Sagan, Cosmos.
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Recently, I finished watching the DVD box set of Cosmos, written and presented by Carl Sagan.  The set was given to me as a present after I dropped a number of hints to my brother (who has now ‘borrowed’ it to watch for himself, I might add).

As a child I was allowed to stay up late to watch the series, and I found something compelling about the episodes even then, though I suppose I didn’t understand much of it at the time.

It’s been an absolute delight to rediscover the series.   All the things I remembered about it are still there – the beautiful voice with its measured delivery, the special effects – dated now, but extraordinary at the time- , and the mingling of story-telling and fact, drama and explanation.  It was just as I had remembered it.

But I also discovered things I hadn’t picked up first time round.  Things like Sagan’s advocacy of environmental issues, and his insistence that we are ‘stewards’ of our planet, holding it in trust for our descendants, but none of us ever owning it or having any rights to it.  The arguments, and the way Carl Sagan makes them, must have seemed incongruous in 1980, the decade of Ronald Regan’s escalation of the nuclear arms race.

In fact, you could probably watch the series several times over, and learn several new things every single time.  Take a look here for more detailed information about the series.

And then, just as I reached the end of the final episode I learned that, over 30 years after the appearance of the original series, a sequel is to be made.  It will bring the series up to date with scientific developments, and will be presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of my favourite science communicators.

I know which box set I’ll be asking for …

What colour is the universe? April 30, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, Jodrell Bank, Nebula, Planetary Nebula.

In a long and convoluted story, my last post about the new Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre led a Twitter friend to look at my favourite images page.  This then resulted in a twitter-sation about why the images are so pretty!

The colours in the images are ‘false’; that is,

Credits: Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger (JPL), the WFPC2 science team, and NASA

if you were to actually be able to travel to see the galaxies or nebulae with your own eyes, you wouldn’t see the colours which are in the images, because our eyes don’t register them.

So I discovered that the people who take the pictures get to choose the colours!

It’s all to do with the chemicals which are detected in the objects, and their wavelengths.  Red indicates the longest wavelength and blue the shortest, with the other colours somewhere in between.

Cats Eye Nebula Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) Acknowledgment: R. Corradi (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Spain) and Z. Tsvetanov (NASA).

But however they decide on the colours, they look lovely anyway! Keep an eye on the favourite images page, because I’m adding more all the time. Or if you like, feel free to send me your favourites and I’ll add them to the page.

Ophiuchus – the ‘new’ zodiac sign? January 29, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astrology, Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Constellations.
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As it’s my birthday today, I thought I would reflect on the effect the stars have on me because of the day I was born.  So here is my conclusion:


Earlier this month, I noticed that the word Ophiuchus was trending on Twitter.  Now aside from it being a strange word to see,  I also thought it odd because of what it was.

With my (still) limited knowledge of astronomy, I at least know that Ophiuchus is a constellation in the night sky.  Wikipedia tells me its name is from the Greek meaning serpent-bearer,  and that it was one of the 48 constellations originally listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy.

2nd century? Hardly counts as new, then.  So why the fuss?

Well, my research (sounds good doesn’t it, but basically I googled it!) uncovered this:

Ophiuchus is a constellation lying between Scorpius and Sagittarius, but it’s not counted as a zodiac sign.  The sun’s path takes it through the constellations which are recognized as the 12 zodiac signs (Aquarius, Pisces etc).  The sun also passes through Ophiuchus, but because Ophiuchus is much fainter than Scorpius next to it, it’s not included in the zodiac.  On top of that, it wouldn’t have been good to have 13 constellations – too unlucky!

So Ophiuchus got bumped.

If you’re interested to know why the ‘new zodiac sign’ began trending in the first place, Phil Plait explains it much better than I ever could in this article.

If you’re interested in knowing what your ‘new’ horoscope will be, you can look here.

I was also amused to read these people reacting to the fact that they are now a different star sign.

Apparently I’m no longer an Aquarian, I’m a Capricorn.  Whatever that means.  As I said:


One thing’s for sure though – I now know how to spell Ophiuchus!

Stargazing and Jodpub 2 January 16, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, BBC Stargazing Live, Jodrell Bank, MOSI, The Jodcast.
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An excellent day on Saturday, as events in connection with last week’s BBC Stargazing Live hit Manchester!  The venue was the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, and many of the day’s Stargazing events were led by a team of enthusiastic and tirelessly energetic people from University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, and the Jodcast (an astronomy podcast which they produce).

Located in the Air & Space Hall of the museum, the Jodrell Bank team had a ‘draw your own constellation’ activity and a ‘planetary treasure hunt’  stretching across the whole of the grounds, both of which went down a treat with younger visitors.

Inside the Air & Space Hall is a small planetarium, which hosted a number of events during the afternoon.  I managed to sneak in to a talk by Gresham Professor of Astronomy, Ian Morison, who describes the night sky each month for the Jodcast – it was lovely to put a face to the voice, and a bit odd hearing the voice in front of me, and not directly in my earphones!

Another talk was given by Dr Paul Woods, also from Jodrell Bank, entitled Chemistry in Space.  There were also a number of opportunities to ‘Ask An Astronomer’ all kinds of questions, such as ‘How many stars are there in the universe?’ , ‘What’s a black hole?’ and ‘Do you believe in alternate universes?’.  These and many other mind-boggling questions were answered with good humour and in simple language by the Jodrell Bank team.

Afterwards, the intention had been to take telescopes out onto the street outside of the museum, and do some actual stargazing.  But the Manchester weather wasn’t co-operating, so this had to be abandoned :-(. It was the only disappointing aspect of the day – I had really been looking forward to having my first ever glimpse through a telescope, and hopefully getting to see Jupiter more clearly.  Still, the planet’s been around for 4.5 billion years, waiting another few evenings won’t make that much difference!

So the final port of call was the pub – the Jodrell Bank team had definitely earned a rest after their busy day, so we retired to a local hostelry (named for the occasion as Jodpub 2, the first Jodpub event having taken place last September).  Personally, it was lovely to be able to meet the presenters and people who work on the podcast behind the scenes – their enthusiasm and knowledge is something I really appreciate on the podcasts, and even more so face to face.  And it was nice to meet up with other podcast listeners, too, although not too many could actually make it to central Manchester on Saturday.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable and information-filled day, and another few pieces of knowledge gathered on my quest towards understanding what’s up there.

Still looking for clear skies though …

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